Not Every Man Is a Gentleman

Do you notice anything odd in these sentences?

  • A gentleman approached me to ask directions and then held me up at gunpoint.
  • I saw two gentlemen approach the boy, and then they beat him to a pulp.

Well, in case you don’t – would you ever define a gentleman as someone who holds up a person at gunpoint or beats someone to a pulp? No, I didn’t think so.

Yet, I can’t believe how often I hear people on the news referring to criminals (and mean, rude, or otherwise unsavory males) as gentlemen. Usually it’s just bystanders providing filler for TV news stories. But this past week, even a psychologist commentator on NPR referred to Aaron Alexis, the Navy Yard shooter, this way. (Granted, one might cut some slack to the mentally ill, but still…)

I’m sure people use the word gentleman because they are trying to be politically correct, or polite, and don’t want to offend anyone. But here’s the thing – calling someone a man is not politically incorrect or impolite, so why can’t people just leave it at that?

Please, let’s save gentleman for men who really exhibit the qualities of one.

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Walla!? (Non, c’est voilà!)

The English language is constantly evolving. Definitions change, nouns become verbs, spelling changes, and so on. It’s also only natural that we should misuse words we borrow from other languages. However, sometimes a word is in an awkward stage between correct, original usage and accepted new usage.  “Walla” is one of these words, and it’s like fingernails on a blackboard when I hear people say it.

“Look at this hat. It’s empty. I tap three times, and walla! A rabbit comes out!”

OUCH!

The real word is voilà (sounds like vwah-lah). It’s French, and it means “see there.”

“Out of buttermilk for your pancakes? Combine a tablespoon of lemon juice and 15 tablespoons of milk, let sit five minutes, stir, and voilà! You’ve got buttermilk.”

Ahhh… doesn’t that feel better?

Now here’s how you can change the future: Correct your friends when they say walla. Tell them that the word they intend to use is voilà. And then they can correct their friends, and so on. Correct usage will win and we will all sound smarter.

Are there any foreign words you find people misusing? Do tell!